Attitudinal Change in Participants of Partner Assault Response (PAR) Programs: A Pilot Project


4. Discussion

The current report describes the development of an attitudinal measure and provides results from an examination of men's attitudes before and after participating in a Partner Assault Response program. The newly developed self-report assessment instrument provided internally reliable scores for five domains of men's attitudes: 1) Lack of personal responsibility for abuse and its effects (10 items); 2) Partner blaming (10 items); 3) Distrust of, and lack of readiness for, intervention (10 items); 4) Sexist attitudes towards women (10 items); and 5) Denial of expected relationship difficulties (9 items). In addition, measures were created to assess men's attitude towards the specific incident that resulted in their referral to intervention (16 items), their knowledge of abusive behaviours (17 items) and their understanding of abuse-supporting cognitions (13 items). The scores of men from different referral streams were compared to judge the initial efficacy of these measures. Results and their implications are discussed for each domain, in turn. In addition, a small subsample of 14 men completed measures both before and after intervention to give a preliminary indication of potential change over time.

4.1 Personal responsibility for abuse and its effects

Personal responsibility was a first construct included in the current assessment of men's attitudes. On the final scale, 10 internally consistent items assess this domain. An example item from this scale is "My behaviour has made my partner angry, but has had no lasting negative effects on her." These items tap attitudes that are critical to achieving the goals of PAR programs - to increase men's accountability for their abusive behaviour.

Prior to intervention, men's attitudes overall reflected a lack of personal responsibility. For example, summing across men's problematic responses, we find that men endorse an average of around 3 out of 10 indicators of a lack of personal responsibility prior to intervention. Moreover, only 16% of men report no indicators of problematic responsibility attitudes. No significant differences were found in the personal responsibility of men referred by probation services, Early Intervention or those attending intervention voluntarily.

Analysis based on a small subsample suggested that the created measure of men's level of personal responsibility was sensitive to intervention-related change in attitudes. Specifically, men who completed intervention raised their self-reported level of personal responsibility for their abusive behaviour. This result is a hopeful indicator that PAR programs may achieve their aim of promoting men's responsibility for their abusive behaviour. Further research is needed to determine if changes in self-reported levels of personal responsibility relate to changes in abusive behaviour.

On the basis of these results, further use of the "Lack of personal responsibility for abuse and its effects" subscale is recommended.

4.2 Denial of expected relationship difficulties

A second construct assessed in the current study was men's denial of expected relationship difficulties. Unlike other attitude scales, men's overall agreement and disagreement with these items was not of concern. Men's responses were deemed problematic only if they endorsed unrealistically positive views of their relationship. For example, for an item such as "I have sometimes wondered if things would be better if I was in a different relationship," a response of "strongly disagree" would be coded as an indicator of denial of expected relationship difficulties.

Prior to intervention, men generally endorsed a number of indicators of denial. Specifically, on average men endorsed 2 indicators of denial, with 27% reporting no denial. No significant differences were noted in the denial level of men referred through probation, the early intervention process or attending voluntarily. Thus, for the majority of men, change in level of denial is a reasonable intervention goal.

As with personal responsibility for abusive behaviour, significant changes were noted in men's denial over the course of intervention for the small subsample of men studied, further supporting the utility of this scale.

On the basis of these results, further use of the "Lack of personal responsibility for abuse and its effects" subscale is recommended.

4.3 Partner blaming

Avoidance of partner blaming was a third construct included in the current assessment of men's attitudes. Again, 10 internally consistent items were selected to represent this domain, with items such as "My partner exaggerates negative things I have done in our relationship" representative of the scale. Once again, reduction of men's blaming of their partners for their abusive behaviour is a critical goal of PAR programming.

Prior to intervention, men's scores on this domain reflected a relatively high level of partner blaming. On average, men reported blaming attitudes on about 4 of the 10 items assessing this domain, with only 13% of men avoiding all partner blaming attitudes. Once again, no significant attitude differences were noted according to referral source.

Over intervention, men's average level of partner-blaming attitudes decreased, though amount of decrease did not reach statistically significant levels. Despite the lack of evidence for pre- to post-intervention difference, the high initial level of problem attitudes in this domain and its centrality in the content of PAR programs lead to the recommendation that it be retained in future research.

4.4 Sexist attitudes towards women

A fourth attitude domain directly targeted in PAR programs in men's sexist attitudes towards women. Ten internally consistent items were retained to assess this domain of men's attitudes. Items included those tapping men's attitudes towards women in general (e.g., "Women are generally not as smart as men") and towards issues around women's rights (e.g., "Women should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers").

Although clinical reports often suggest that abusive men hold sexist attitudes (Dobash & Dobash, 2000), examination of men's responses on this self-report questionnaire found that prior to intervention, men endorsed few indicators of sexist attitudes. In fact, over 50% of men endorsed no problematic attitudes in this domain and only one man endorsed more than 4 indicators of sexist attitudes. Thus, at least on self-report, men attending PAR programs seem to lack problems in this area.

The low endorsement of problematic attitudes in this domain also has implications for men's progress over time. In particular, if over 50% of the men are reporting non-sexist attitudes before intervention, no positive change can be expected for this 50% of the sample. Results were consistent with this reasoning and, overall, no significant differences were noted in men's sexist attitudes over intervention. At both times, the majority of respondents reported non-sexist attitudes. This result is not unique to the current study. A number of investigations now suggest that, although the societal level of inequality has an impact on abuse of women, the attitudes held by individual men are relatively poor predictors of abusive behaviour.

On the basis of these results, further use of the "Sexist attitudes towards women" subscale is not recommended.

4.5 Lack of readiness for intervention

A final domain that was included on the current attitude measure was one tapping men's attitudes towards intervention itself. The 10 items on this scale assessed men's attitudes towards intervention in general (e.g., "The only purpose of this program is to blame men for their problems") and towards program counsellors (e.g., "Counsellors here can be trusted"). This attitude domain was included on the basis of research suggesting that men who have more negative attitudes towards intervention are more likely to dropout of service and to fail to make change in their abusive behaviour.

Examination of men's attitudes prior to beginning the PAR program found that, despite legal or social coercion, most men approached treatment with generally positive attitudes. Men endorsed an average of only 1 to 2 items out of 10 indicating negative attitudes towards treatment and a full 42% endorsed solely positive treatment-related attitudes. No significant referral-related differences in attitudes towards treatment were noted, confirming clinical observations that men's perception of coercion and injustice is likely considerably more important than objectively measured variables.

Over intervention, men's attitudes towards treatment did shift in a positive direction, though this shift did not reach statistically significant levels. Again, this result may be due, at least in part, to the generally positive attitudes men hold even before beginning treatment. Thus, as a measure of the efficacy of PAR programs in promoting attitude change, this scale may not be useful.

Assessment of men's attitudes towards treatment may, however, be useful when considered in conjunction with other measures. For example, further studies may be done on whether men with more negative attitudes are more likely to dropout of treatment or if expected benefits of new intervention ideas are limited for men with negative attitudes towards intervention.

4.6 Attitudes towards referral incident

Due to concern that men's general attitudes may not reflect their attitudes towards the specific incident that resulted in their referral to intervention, men were also asked about their attitudes towards the referral incident. Results indicated that men's personal responsibility attitudes and their attitudes towards the incident that resulted in their referral to a PAR program were generally similar. In other words, little evidence was found for "incident-specific" attitudes. Given this, reliance on the more general attitude assessment is recommended in future research.

4.7 Knowledge of abusive behaviours

PAR program activities also focus on educating men about abusive behaviour. Given this goal, men's knowledge pre- and post-program was also examined. Results indicated that when given a list of common abusive behaviours and asked to judge whether they were hurtful/controlling or not, men were accurate in the identification of about 80% of abusive behaviours. Men were most likely to identify ignoring or walking away from their partner when she is talking, trying to make their partner feel crazy, and yelling, screaming, or swearing at their partner as hurtful. Men were less likely to report that unilateral financial decision making, monitoring a partner's time or activities or threatening a partner was hurtful or controlling.

Comparison of a small subsample of men's knowledge of abusive behaviour before and after intervention indicated that men's gains in knowledge approached significance. Thus despite initially good knowledge levels, completing intervention was associated with even greater understanding of abusive behaviour.

These results provide conflicting messages about the utility of an abuse knowledge measure in PAR programming. If the aim of the PAR programs is for men to be able to accurately identify all, or virtually all, forms of hurtful and controlling behaviour, then knowledge assessment is warranted. If, on the other hand, the aim is for generally good knowledge of abusive behaviour, current results suggest that men have generally sufficient knowledge at program intake and that assessment should instead focus on change in men's attitudes and behaviours.

4.8 Knowledge of abuse-supporting cognitions

Cognitive behavioural analysis of abusive behaviour is one component of most PAR programs. In this component of the program, men are taught to recognize those thoughts that are likely to lead to healthy, as opposed to unhealthy or abusive behaviour. Results of the current study showed that prior to beginning intervention, men were likely to recognize the value of cognitions around efficacy, such as "I don't need to defend myself, I can hear her out." Men were much less likely to recognize the potential danger of ruminative thoughts (e.g., "I can't believe we are having this discussion again - we just talked about this yesterday"; "Why can't she leave this alone") and self-talk around entitlement (e.g., "I should not have to listen to this kind of criticism"). Overall, men were incorrect in identifying the potential value (or danger) of one third of the listed cognitions regardless of referral source.

Over the course of intervention, men's knowledge of healthy and unhealthy cognitions did not improve significantly. However, given the theoretical link between changes in cognition and changes in behaviour, and men's poor initial knowledge of abuse-supporting cognition, additional research in this area is warranted. Thus, this measure is recommended as a measure of men's change in knowledge over the course of PAR intervention.

4.9 Summary

In summary, of the attitude measures created and investigated for the purposes of the current study, three are clearly recommended for future research and use: lack of personal responsibility for abuse and its effects; partner blaming; and denial of expected relationship difficulties. If change in knowledge is investigated, the created measure of health and unhealthy cognitions is recommended. The distrust of, and lack of readiness for, intervention scale is not recommended as an indicator of program efficacy, but could be used to examine the moderating effects of men's approach to intervention.